Ors British Cemetery – Wilfred Owen and his comrades

A visit to Wilfred Owen’s grave and the canal bank where he was killed is particularly poignant.

The Wilfred Owen Association provides an excellent illustration of the Ors area and circumstances leading to his death on 4th November 1918.  Read the rest of the site and there is a treasure trove of other information on the places he served and inspired his poetry.  The section with analysis of his work is a must.  I’ve discussed the poetry and the man with teenagers.  They really engage and Wilfred Owen has a great legacy that catches the interest of the current generation of young people.

We also have a selection of grave photos of other Manchester Regiment men – the majority killed in the same action as Owen.

The burials also include 21 year old Lt James Kirk, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in the action.  James Kirk was attached to the 2nd Manchesters from 10th Battalion.

Lieutenant Colonel John Neville Marshall VC, MC & Bar was another casualty.  He had been born in Manchester and was in command the 16th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, on attachment from the Irish Guards.  Wilfred Owen described him as the “mad Major”; “bold, robust, dashing, unscrupulous, cruel, jovial, immoral, vast-chested, handsome-headed, of free coarse speech”.


IMG_8301It’s also good to commemorate the other Ranks.  This includes Pte 9454 George Massey, who was killed on 5th November.  George was 37 years old and left behind his widow Ellen A Massey.  He had been a career soldier, serving with 1st Battalion in India in 1911.  George was also an Old Contemptible, having arrived in France on 11th September 1914 – more than four years prior, but sadly not quite surviving the Armistice, 6 days after his death.


I have to admit a little guilt with any differential made for “Celebrity” war graves.  A fundamental premise for the Imperial War Grave Commission (now Commonwealth) was that all burials should be equal as the men with all ranks and awards lie in peace alongside their peers.  All these men had lives that should be commemorated and families that all faced anguish at their loss.

From his work and my knowledge of Owen’s life there is a level of familiarity that brings a specific connection to a particular grave.  In reality, I have similar experiences when I visit family commemorations; or see inscriptions at Thiepval, or other cemeteries, particularly Dantzig Alley.  More “strange friends” perhaps?

Despite these observations, I regular point out Raymond Asquith’s grave (Prime Minister’s son) at Guillemont Road; illustrating that all sectors of society suffered losses.  I also admit that there is only one man that drew me through some pretty awful minor French and Belgium roads to Ors – Lieutenant Wilfred Owen MC.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.